Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 2 September 2015
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you know, the Secretary-General arrived in Beijing earlier today. Tomorrow, he is expected to meet with President Xi Jinping, as well as the Premier of China, the Vice-Premier and the Foreign Minister, separately, to discuss the implementation of the sustainable development agenda and the Paris climate change conference, among other matters. We will be issuing readouts of those meetings overnight, as they happen in Beijing.
Meanwhile, back here, the Security Council adopted its programme of work for September. And as you well know, because you are all here, Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin will be here to brief you at 12:30 p.m. Under other business, the Security Council also received a briefing on the latest developments in Lebanon from the Special Coordinator, Sigrid Kaag.
Meanwhile, turning to Yemen, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaaw, has condemned the killing of two staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Those killings took place in Amran Governorate. He expressed his condolences and called on all parties to the conflict to provide aid workers with a safe environment in which to work. The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, also condemned today's attack and repeated his call for all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and to protect aid workers.
And I know you’ve all been asking on a semi-regular basis about updating on Saudi Arabia’s funding pledge for Yemen. Last week, UN agencies, funds and programmes signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the following amounts with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: $1.7 million for UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]; the World Health Organization (WHO) received $22.2 million and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] signed an MOU for a value of $29.6 million.
This funding is a matter of formalizing the Saudi pledge of $274 million towards the Flash Appeal that was issued in April. Some of the programmes have already started, based on the pledged funds, and will continue in the coming months with a view of providing relief supplies to Yemenis. Other agreements are still being finalized. The Strategic Response Plan for Yemen calls for $1.6 billion dollars and just $352 million, or 22 per cent of this amount, has been funded.
Bernardino León, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, met with representatives of the General National Congress (GNC) in Istanbul yesterday. Afterwards, he said that he had a very frank and open discussion and that he had encouraged the GNC members to continue to engage in efforts to find a solution in Libya as soon as possible. Mr. León said that he will continue to press the parties to sign on to an agreement so that it can begin the implementation by 20 October.
From Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Nicholas Kay, strongly condemned the attack yesterday by Al-Shabaab militants on an AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] base at Janaale, manned by troops from the Ugandan contingent. He sent his deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones in the attack, as well as to the people and the Governments of Uganda and Somalia. Mr. Kay said that these courageous peacekeepers sacrificed their lives in the ongoing efforts to bring lasting peace and security to Somalia.
On a related note, OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] tells us that humanitarian partners report that more than 40,000 people have been displaced in southern and central Somalia since the beginning of military operations in mid-July. An estimated 16,000 people were displaced in the last week alone in the Hiraan, Gedo and Bakool regions of the country. The military offensive has also resulted in considerable numbers of refugees crossing the border to reach Dolo Ado Refugee Camp in Ethiopia. To date, insecurity has prevented humanitarians from reaching people affected by the offensive.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Assistant Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, visited a displacement site in North Kivu today, which hosts some 5,000 internally displaced people. She said that though she had visited many displacement sites in her life, Mugunga was the toughest she had seen. She said that the level of aid does not match the needs expressed by the people she met, and that she will engage donors to try to boost funding levels. The aid appeal for [Democratic Republic of the Congo] is currently only 45 per cent funded.
Also on the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], we’ve been asked about incidents in Rugari, North Kivu, where some elements of the Congolese Army were reportedly ambushed by FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] elements. We are told that MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] troops were not present in the area when the incident occurred.
A couple of answers to questions we have been asked off-line. One is on the situation in Guatemala. I can say the Secretary-General is aware of recent allegations of corruption involving President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, as well as former Vice-President Roxana Baldetti. Those were brought to light by the Office of the Guatemalan Attorney General and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. The Secretary-General trusts that Guatemalan institutions will act with transparency and responsibility to ensure accountability and provide due process for all parties involved in these allegations.
Also, I was asked about the situation in Nepal. What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General is following closely the situation in that country and is concerned about reports of violence in recent weeks and saddened by the loss of life in Nepal. He urges all to refrain from the use of force, denounce violence in all forms and engage in dialogue.
As you know, the UN has supported the Nepali-led peace process, of which a new constitution is an important milestone. The Secretary-General is hopeful that the leaders will share again a spirit of compromise. The UN office in Nepal is in regular contact with Nepali leaders and is urging them to seize this historic opportunity to agree on a dispensation that has the widest popular support. The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, has also engaged directly with Nepali leaders and conveyed this message.
Back here, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke this morning at a dedication ceremony for the Tree of Peace and Unity. He said that the tree, planted in May, symbolizes in its growth the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The Deputy Secretary-General lamented the loss of lives from the tragedy. He called the creation of the UN in 1945 a bold step in a new direction — an act of abiding trust in humanity after so many sacrifices. The Deputy Secretary-General said that as we honour the victims of the Second World War, we must resolve again to live up to the founding purpose of the UN: to achieve peace, human rights, justice and social progress for all. His full remarks are available online.
A story from the World Health Organization caught our eye this morning. They are saying that two children have been paralysed by polio in south-western Ukraine. WHO says that Ukraine had been at particular risk of the emergence of this due to inadequate vaccination coverage. Last year, only half of children were fully immunized against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Discussions are continuing with national health authorities to plan and implement an urgent response to the outbreak. More on WHO’s website if you are interested.
Today in Glasgow opened the first World Hepatitis Summit. That will be going on for three days. It aims to help countries enhance action to prevent viral hepatitis infection and ensure that people who are infected are diagnosed and offered treatment. Around 400 million people are currently living with viral hepatitis, and the disease claims an estimated 1.45 million lives each year, making it one of the world’s leading causes of death. More information is available on the WHO’s website.
Tomorrow at 1 p.m., we will have in this room, Richard Curtis, the renowned filmmaker, joined by Amina Mohammed, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Agenda, as well as Cristina Gallach, the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Public Information. They will be here to brief you on the Global Goals Campaign, which aims to bring together public figures, companies, NGOs and others to inform the entire world about the new sustainable development goals. And you will be happy to know, we will unveil new logos and there will be a video. It will be entertaining. On that note…
**Questions and Answers
Question: One question is on Syria and joint mission on chemical weapons. So, the Secretary-General sent this letter to the Security Council six days ago, and the Security Council was supposed to give an answer in five days, yesterday. So, is there any procedural issue that you need to extend this mandate?
Spokesman: It sounds like a perfect question for Ambassador Churkin and the Security Council in his capacity as President. The Council, as you know, is the master of its own work, so we await word from the Council.
Correspondent: Actually, to follow-up.
Correspondent: Oh, please, go ahead.
Question: Actually, what's the procedure? Is there a new deadline at this point? And is… is the [Secretary-General] disappointed that it took them five days and they can't come up with a position?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General is extremely pleased that there was unanimity on… within the Security Council to pass this very important resolution. I think we're just waiting to hear back from the Council. Whether it's a day or two or, you know, we're waiting to hear back from the Council. Abdel Hamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You have mentioned number of disaster areas. None of those are equal to what happening in Gaza. UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development] issued a report on Monday under the title Gaza 2020, which says life will not be sustainable in Gaza after the year 2020. So, why you didn't mention this report? And would you promise that you will bring the summary of this important report for a future briefing?
Spokesman: Yes, no, in fact, we should have flagged it. I don't know why I didn't have it with me, because we saw the press reports yesterday. We will, indeed, flag it. Mr. Lee? And then…
Question: I want to ask about South Sudan and Burundi. On South Sudan, there are now reports… and I'm told that UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] is aware of this, of trucks of ammunition coming into the country through Nimule, which is on the Ugandan border, and also separately of bombing from airplanes in and around Malakal on opposition positions. Since these are both sort of noticeable things, what does UNMISS say about them? I under… IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] is not speaking about ceasefire violations, but the UN has a presence there. What…?
Spokesman: I haven't received any public reports from UNMISS. Obviously, I think we've all seen the more… the press reports having to do with some of the tensions. IGAD, as you know, is responsible for monitoring the ceasefire, but if I get anything from UNMISS, I will share it with you.
Question: And on Burundi, I guess I wanted to ask you, overnight there were reports of serious gunfire in Bujumbura, especially in anti-third-term neighbourhoods like Jabe and Musaga. There's a widely circulated photograph of the police putting a grenade in somebody's mouth. I'm just wondering, it seems like it’s getting worse. What's the plan?
Spokesman: I think the… the continuing tensions and violence in Burundi, I think are… continue to be of great concern to us and I think underscore the need for political dialogue with the Government and the opposition and civil society. But, meanwhile, obviously, the Government has a responsibility to ensure that freedoms are respected on the ground. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. With regard to the Syrian refugees now in Europe and the horrific images that we are bombarded with over the past few days, is the Secretary-General considering any sort of a proactive approach, calling for an emergency meeting with European leaders, whether the EU [European Union] members or the East European countries that the Syrian refugees have to pass through to get to more safer and friendlier areas?
Spokesman: Obviously, I think we're all very moved by the images we're seeing. And I think what we're seeing on the borders of different countries, I think, just underscores again the need for more managed flow of refugees and migrants. I think when the right procedures aren't in place, when the right flows aren't in place, it gives rise to the presence of criminal gangs, which is what we're seeing, of smugglers, and of increased criminal activity. The UN, through the High Commissioner for Refugees, through the Special Representative on International Migration, Peter Sutherland, and associated agencies like that are in constant touch with authorities in… throughout Europe. And if we have anything to add, I will share that with you. Sam and then we'll go…
Question: Thanks. I wanted to check… you were asked about this yesterday and you said you were trying to get some more information, but three VICE News reporters, my colleagues, have been arrested in south-eastern Turkey. They've since been moved to a prison far away from where they were first arrested. Turkish authorities have levied terrorism charges against them. Several groups, including Amnesty and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have asked them for to be released. Have you had time to look into this? What's the UN's stance?
Spokesman: I think it's clear for us that journalists need to be allowed to do their work freely. I think especially when we're seeing it in conflict zones, it's an important part of the work they have to do. But, again, I'm waiting to get a little more details, and if I have, I will bring it to you.
Question: So, you wouldn't say they should be released?
Spokesman: I think we're try… we're still trying to look into this particular case. Yes?
Question: Stéphane, the United Nations has expressed their concern about the situation between Venezuela and Colombia. Just recently, the President of Colombia said that they are trying to seek help from the United Nations, and then possibly they will go to the international courts to demand… to seek an answer and especially to indict those that were involved in the deportations and the way they were done. Is anything the UN has to add to this particular issue right now, especially if they were to bring it up to the United Nations?
Spokesman: Well, you know, obviously, the Secretary-General's very much aware of the recent developments between Venezuela and Colombia. On the humanitarian end, we are providing support to address the needs of the persons who require humanitarian assistance. Obviously, as in any situation where there is tension or conflict, the UN is there to help both parties come to an agreement, should both parties ask for the help of the United Nations. Edie and then Mr. Klein?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Secretary-General is going to be holding a meeting on the migration crisis during the General Assembly. Could you give us some idea of what the focus of this meeting's going to be and what he's hoping the outcome will be?
Spokesman: Sure. The meeting had been… while the timing's fortuitous, the meeting had been in the planning stages for a few months. In fact, we had seen the refugee crisis, the migrant issue come to the forefront in Europe over the last year. What the Secretary-General aims to do is on bringing countries to strengthen the cooperation and… on migration and refugee movements. I think a lot of things we've talked about here is how to manage the flow, how to bring together the countries of origin, the countries of transit, and the destination countries, which sometimes countries can be both countries of origin and transit countries. I mean, you see… you look at the flow of people… of refugees in the Sahel, where people are fleeing the violence of Boko Haram and going from one country to another. This also is inscribed within the context of the new sustainable goals, which call for an orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people. So, the side event is… will address the short-term and the longer-term issue and also be within the framework of the new sustainable development goals. But I think there had been some misunderstanding that this was an emergency meeting called for in the last few days. This, in fact, had been something that had been in the works over the last few months, obviously, given the importance of the refugee crisis that we've been seeing over the last year. Mr. Klein and then Masoodji, and then…
Question: Yes, in the last couple of days, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps announced plans to expand the reach of Iran's missile capability which would appear to be a… if implemented, a violation of the existing missile embargo in the UN Security Council resolution. What would the Secretary-General's comment be on what appears to be a violation?
Spokesman: We expect Iran to live up to the commitments that it's made and obviously abide by the existing embargoes. Abdel Hamid, I was, in fact, given the piece of paper which I failed to take with me, which I can just flag, said today in the… in a report, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, states that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 due to the ongoing de-development, eight years of economic blockade and three military operations in the past six years. In addition to the 500,000 people who have been displaced in Gaza as a result of the most recent military operations in 2014, the report estimates significant economic losses, including the destruction or severe damage of more than 20,000 Palestinian homes, 148 schools, 15 hospitals and 45 primary health-care centres. Masood, and then we'll go to the back.
Question: This is a follow-up on what you've just read. I mean, given the fact that this is a very damning report that Gaza will become uninhabitable within the next 10 years or so, does the Secretary-General…?
Correspondent: Within five.
Question: Within five. Sorry. Within five years. What I'm saying is, has the Secretary-General been able to appeal to the Israeli and the Egyptian authorities to at least let go of the stranglehold of the economic…?
Spokesman: Well, I think that has been a consistent message to the inter… from the Secretary-General, which was most recently reiterated in his last periodic briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Going back to the migrant and refugee crisis, we know that there are millions of people who… refugees who are staying in camps adjacent to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, et cetera. Is this crisis being viewed as an international one, in the sense that countries around the world, whether they be in Latin America, Asia, et cetera, are also responsible or are being asked, so to speak, to take in these refugees?
Spokesman: Clearly. I mean, you know, every… refugees have rights. Countries have rights, but also have responsibilities. There is a body of international law having to do with refugees. The reason… one of the main reasons we're seeing this outflow of refugees is the current violence in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria. Those are some of the root causes that need to be addressed. The countries along the border of Syria, notably Lebanon, are carrying a huge burden. I mean, Lebanon has more refugees per capita than any other country in the world, and it's already, as we know, a country that has a fragile internal situation. Every country has a responsibility to play. Let me go to people who haven't asked and then… Majeed?
Question: Thank you. About Syria, there's a Red Cross report that talks about the city of Aleppo, that the rebel and Government forces are deliberately cutting the water supplies to almost 2 million residents there, endangering their lives. Is the UN aware of these reports?
Spokesman: I haven't seen that particular report, but we have often denounced the use of water as a tool of war and the denying of water as a tool of war, which in itself can be considered a war crime. Yes?
Question: Hi, this is Mariko from TBS International. I have a question about Secretary-General's visit in China. I… in my understanding, he is supposed to attend a parade overnight, our time tonight. Are we expecting any statement coming from him?
Spokesman: There will be readouts of the meetings that he will be having in China, the various bilateral meetings, and we will be putting readouts out. So, they will be coming in on your e-mail overnight.
Spokesman: Yes, as they happen. Sam?
Question: I want to ask about the Saudi MOUs, but I have another question. What more information would the UN need to release a statement on these journalists that have been arrested…?
Spokesman: We're just trying to get a bit more detail on the exact case. Obviously, I think any detention of journalists is something that's of great concern to us, and the Secretary-General has spoken out strongly in the past, and I expect him to continue to do so.
Question: Back on the migration crisis, Stéphane. I was just wondering, there's discussion in Europe about revisiting the Schengen Agreement, and I was wondering if that's something…?
Spokesman: I think that's… those are discussions the European Union needs to have. What we are concerned here is that the refugees that we're seeing, the migrants that we're seeing be treated with dignity and with respect. And, you know, a lot of the pictures that we've seen don't really show that dignity. There needs to be an orderly flow of refugees, things people need to… countries need to live up to their responsibilities under international law. Erol?
Question: Steph, just a quick follow-up on that, sort of, to see the direction of the Secretary-General action on immigration. Did or does the Secretary-General plan to talk to rich Muslim countries, especially in the Gulf, to take more measures to receive the refugees?
Spokesman: I think, you know, all the countries, the countries in the region, countries in the broad region, every country in the world has a role to play and has a responsibility, and we all hope that all… every country lives up to its responsibilities. Sidi rais. You have a question? Yes, you.
Correspondent: You were asking me?
Spokesman: I'm trying my Arabic. What can I tell you? After 15 years at the UN, there's some words that you learn.
Correspondent: You are my witness, he just appointed me a President.
Question: Stéphane, do you have a readout on the Sigrid Kaag briefing to the Security Council or is it another perfect question for Mr. Churkin?
Spokesman: I think… Mr. Churkin… since it was in close consultations, I have no doubt Mr. Churkin… you can request that question of him.
Question: May I follow up on that?
Spokesman: Yes, and then Matthew. Go ahead.
Question: Can you tell us please why Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman asked for this meeting on Lebanon, and does the Secretariat have any concern regarding…?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I think we're all seeing the situation for our own eyes in Lebanon, as I had mentioned. I think the situation… the internal political situation in Lebanon is, indeed, fragile. We've been reporting on Sigrid Kaag's public meetings and her public messages to various political leaders. I think it's very important for her to brief the Security Council. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. On Yemen, I wanted to ask… you'd said that these three UN agencies have now signed these MOUs. I wanted to know, there was some controversy about the conditions that Saudi Arabia was trying to impose. Are the MOUs public? And I also wanted to ask you about a report by… a Somali diplomat has said that the UAE [United Arab Emirates] is training soldiers from the Somali army to go and become part of the coalition in Southern Yemen. And since obviously there's an AMISOM peacekeeping mission in the country that's just been attacked, some people see it as contradictory that Somalia would be sending soldiers to Yemen. Does the UN, which provides support to AMISOM, have any knowledge of this training and deployment of Somali troops to Yemen?
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware of it. On the MOUs, I'm not sure they are public, but they are… they are basic rules about the UN distributing aid, which includes non-discrimination on religion, ethnic groups or so on. So aid that is distributed through the United Nations goes to people in need. The MOUs in most… in many… in all cases really focus on the reporting, and I think it's only right that donors who give large amounts of money, whether it's Saudi Arabia, the US, or the UK, have a mechanism through which there is accountability on the use of the funds.
Question: But, is there any restriction on aid going into Houthi-controlled areas? This is something that's been discussed…?
Spokesman: No, aid goes to people in need, and that is a…
Question: …throughout the country?
Spokesman: …basic tenet of the UN's humanitarian work. The opening act is over. And I will leave you in the hands of the ambassador.
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